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Where to buy cosmetics in Seoul (South Korea)? What to bring back from South Korea?

Article updated on June 3, 2020

The base

Before shopping for Korean cosmetics in Seoul, you should first familiarize yourself with the concept of Korean layering. Here, the products are more liquid than the products used in France so the complete routine that a Korean woman who respects herself is between 9 and 11 steps (like Japanese women).

To get up to date with thisn’tion of layering, before your trip to Seoul, buy one of the following books:

Do all Korean women have perfect skin?

Well, before going any further and making you spend $3000, I have a confession to make: Korean women don’t have perfect skin. And their makeup isn’t perfect either. It’s quite far from the smooth and perfect image that dramas reflect.

I went to several neighborhoods of Seoul, from the popular to the upmarket … and apart from a few rare Korean women with incredibly beautiful dewy, glowy, glass skin like in the ad … the others are … just normal. You can see from miles around that they have a big layer of cushion. Girls who have had cosmetic surgery, it shows too much too. Korean girls spread cushion or bb cream 2 shades lighter than their own skin color (they love shade 103, whiter than 21).

In short, this video sums up the reality vs. the power of makeupquite quickly

Note: be careful, I’m not saying that they are all ugly, ON THE CONTRARY! But if you have the expectation that Korean skincare is so miraculous that the whole country has a flawless skin and a perfect make-up (no make up look) like in the dramas, know that it’s FALSE.

Where to buy cosmetics in Seoul?

As in France and South Korea, there are so many cosmetic distribution networks that you won’t find everything in one store. But if you go around the following places, you will find a large part of the products in vogue.

  1. Myeong-dong shopping street: there are stores dedicated to a single brand (Banila Co., La Neige, Etude House, Innisfree, Tony Moly, Banila co., Moonshot, Too cool for school, Missha …) … but also Olive Young (the equivalent of Sephora), Boots (a kind of parapharmacy) and Aritaum (which only sells high-end products from Amore Pacific such as La Neige, IOPE …). You can easily spend an afternoon here. The Aland store in Myeong dong exceptionally sells brands that are hard to find in stores such as COSRX, Klairs, Whamisa or Heimish.
  2. Lotte Department Store: right next door, the Lotte in Myeong dong is waiting for you with high-end brands like Sulwhasoo and Sum:37 . This is where you can also get your skin analyzed for free at SKII (Japanese brand)
  3. Aritaum: it’s a store that only sells high-end products from Amore Pacific such as La Neige, IOPE …
  4. Olive Young: go to any Olive Young store and you will find what you are looking for. It’s the equivalent of Sephora and they mostly sell not too expensive products like 3CE, Neogen, COSRX … and their own Olive Young brand. You won’t find any Tony Moly, Etude House… products, for example, which are sold in their dedicated stores. Recently, Olive Young also delivers in France, see their website here
  5. There is an equivalent of Olive Young called LOHB, there are fewer products, fewer stores but a little more Japanese products there and brands not sold at Olive Young like BBIA, Paula’s Choice…
  6. If there is a brand that you are particularly interested in, just enter the name of this brand on the Naver Maps app and you will see if there is a store near your hotel in Seoul. Also go to their official website (ending in and click on Store Locator to find the points of sale.

That’s nice but my husband is traveling in Korea and he doesn’t know anything about it / doesn’t have much time to shop around

Tip for people wishing to have products brought back by a friend traveling in Korea (who does not like shopping, or who does not know anything about it): you can buy the productsonline, directly via the LOTTE website. You will need to fill in the person’s flight number, and he or she will be able to pick up the order directly at the airport in Korea. Then, all this has to be within the limits of their authorized hand luggage ahaha Don’t worry about liquids, the products will be put in a sealed bag, duty free way. Just don’t be too late and don’t forget to pick up the order. The instructions will be clearly indicated at the time of order, for example for Jeju airport, it will be Lotte’s stand at such door, just after immigration. In any case, it will always be at the same Terminal as the plane (it would be stupid otherwise). The disadvantage is that Lotte sells more high-end products than cheap products.

To thank me for this little known trick, you can leave me a comment at the bottom of the article, it will be my pleasure 😀

Where to buy Korean cosmetics from *France*?

There is no physical store in France but you can store online.

  • YesStyle (link) is a reliable site with lots of Korean/Japanese products. The delivery is done in 2-3 days for the most popular products, very soft prices in addition, customs fees (if any) are refunded. There are always plenty of gifts and samples. I will put the links to Yesstyle for you to access the description in English. You can use the code K7BPCF to get a 10% discount on your first order
  • Olive Young (link) is the equivalent of our Sephora. They have been delivering abroad recently. It’s very fast and there are some products that even YesStyle and Jolse don’t have. Free shipping for orders over 60$
  • Jolse (link) is also a reliable site, delivering from South Korea. Because of the Covid, their shipping costs are high but usually it’s free from a certain amount. They give a lot of samples

How to choose your cosmetics?

Korean trends change so often that you have to be on the lookout for what to buy in stores and what’s trendy, look for this logo :

This is the proof that the product won the prize in the very popular Hwahae site ranking (a composition analysis site + product category ranking).

To view the products to buy, use the bestseller list of the following sites (and activate Google Translate)

Types of products to bring back

  • Make-up remover balm: nothing can dethrone the excellent Clean it zero from Banila Co.(link in FR) which melts make-up in the blink of an eye and turns into milk on contact with water. This product is better than make-up remover oil because you don’t put it everywhere and it doesn’t sting your eyes. Even if you don’t wear makeup, I recommend using it at night just to cleanse your face better. A little harder to find, there is also the Heimish All Clean Balm 120ml(link in FR) that you can buy online or at Aland. The texture is better, and it’s better formulated.
  • Facial Cleanser: SOME BY MI – Bye Bye Blackhead 30 Days Miracle Green Tea Tox Bubble Cleanser. The cleanser lathers and brings dirt to the surface. It can be found at Olive Young(YesStyle link, Jolse link).
  • Tint: Tints are lipsticks that are as liquid as water, but still hold. I usually put a tint on my lips, and then a lipstick. That way, when the lipstick is gone (because I talk/eat too much), the color of the tint will stay and I won’t end up with lifeless lips and looking sick. My favorites: the tints from A’PIEU, or Etude House, whose color lasts super long (I also use them as a blush). But beware, it dries out the lips a bit, you have to use a lip balm first.
  • Sheet masks: surely one of the beauty secrets of flawless skin. You’ve probably tested these masks at Sephora but I can tell you that it has nothing to do with Korean masks (in terms of quality). Because these masks allow you to moisturize the skin in record time. My favorites: Mediheal (link in FR) on the spot, try to find the water drop mask, Innisfree(bija, green tea and rice, link in FR), Tony Moly‘s snail slime masks, My Beauty Diary (it’s taiwanese but it’s on sale everywhere here). It’s definitely worth buying by the dozen, it will be cheaper and as soon as you use them, you’ll be hooked.
  • BB cream/CC cream/Cushion: You will be spoilt for choice. Beware there isn’t much choice in terms of dyed products. Korean women often use the color 21 which gives them a super pale complexion. The complexion products here aren’t expensive, do not hesitate to test and make a small stock. Often the cushions are sold with a free refill. My favorites: I don’t have any, I don’t use them! Active Korean women seem to prefer the cushions from the Aritaum store, which sells high-end products. On the other hand, I recommend the concealer from The Saem SPF 28 with my eyes closed(link in FR). With this concealer, I don’t need a complexion product anymore.

All the other products (creams, make-up remover oils, cleansers…) are of good quality, cheap but aren’t essential I find because there are products of equivalent quality in France.


  • Take your passport to apply for tax refund (from 50,000won purchase). In department stores, VAT is deducted directly, in other (smaller) stores, you have to show the invoice and get the refund at the airport.
  • Paying with your foreign credit card can give you discounts. For example at innisfree it gives you -20% direct discount.
  • You will get more samples and gifts when buying in stores selling one to 3 brands (Etude House, Innisfree or Aritaum…) than at Olive Young which is quite stingy with samples.
  • There are a lot of trusted sites that sell Korean cosmetics cheaper than in Korean stores (and that deliver for free in France from 100$ of purchase) like testerkorea, jolse, yesstyle… so there’s no point in buying everything in South Korea and paying for overweight luggage. Especially buy products that aren’t available on these sites, or that must be bought locally (like tint, cushions, lipsticks that need to be tested before purchase).
  • Just because a product is cute doesn’t mean it’s not effective. Here, products need to be pretty AND effective. So don’t hesitate to fall for milk bottle-shaped tints or banana-shaped hand creams.
  • If you want to know more about my layering routine during the world tour, click here
  • To learn more about my current Japanese/Korean layering routine, click here

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